Inner Sanctum: Finding Peace in the Inner Banks of North Carolina

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Historic buildings abound the Inner Banks, North Carolina
Well preserved historic buildings abound in the Inner Banks, North Carolina. Photo credit: Judy Antell.

‌Time moves slowly in the Inner Banks, North Carolina. The gateway to the barrier islands of the Outer Banks, the string of small towns and small cities includes Edenton, Greenville and Washington.  

The Inner Banks may not get the amount of attention devoted to the Outer Banks and other popular North Carolina destinations, but that’s a positive for a visitor.

Expect gentler prices at a bed and breakfasts, uncrowded historic sites and chefs who may fly under the radar, but are just as devoted to quality cuisine. You can also find local Southern specialties like fried green tomatoes, biscuits, vinegar-based barbecue and Cheerwine, a cherry-flavored soda.

Take a stroll along Albermarle Sound for amazing views such as the lighthouse in Edenton's Inner Banks, North Carolina
Stroll along Albemarle Sound and see the historic lighthouse in Edenton. Photo credit: Judy Antell.

Charming Getaway in Edenton

The historic small town of Edenton, part of Chowan County, is the perfect introduction to the delights of the  Inner Banks Region.

This gem of a spot has an adorable downtown and, if you like historic buildings, you can find many National Historic Landmarks and places on the National Register of Historic Places. Edenton was the first colonial capital of North Carolina and the Battle of Albemarle Sound was fought here during the Civil War.

Take an hour-long trolley tour to see historic sites. You can go kayaking on Edenton Bay to enjoy the scenic waterfront from another perspective. Or canoeing in Merchants Millpond State Park, where you have to watch out for alligators.

On the first Sunday of every month, downtown hosts a block party with food trucks and live music.

While in Inner Banks North Carolina, you can tour The Cupola House.
You can tour The Cupola House. Photo credit: Judy Antell.

The 1767 Chowan County Courthouse, a National Historic Landmark, is the oldest colonial courthouse still in use in the United States. The 1758 Cupola House,  a National Historic Landmark,  is a historic house museum with lush gardens maintained by local volunteers.

Penelope Barker House Welcome Center

Another historic house museum, the Penelope Barker House Welcome Center, was built in 1782. You can buy trolley tour tickets here, and see portraits of the people who lived here.

Catch sunset views at the 1886 Roanoke River Lighthouse in Edenton, in Inner Banks North Carolina.
Sunset at the 1886 Roanoke River Lighthouse in Edenton. Photo credit: Judy Antell

Edenton also has a historic lighthouse, open for guided tours. The 1886 Roanoke River Lighthouse is the only surviving screw-pile lighthouse in the state of North Carolina.

 It originally guarded the mouth of the Roanoke River and was moved twice; to land where it was a family home, and to Edenton’s waterfront. You can only see the interior by guided tour for $2.50 per person.

The main house at Hayes farm is a National Historic Landmark in Inner Banks North Carolina.
The main house at Hayes Farm, a National Historic Landmark. Photo credit: Judy Antell.

Hayes Farm

The South confronts its plantation past at Hayes Farm. Walk, run, or drive over the small bridge from Edeton waterfront to Hayes Farm. The farm, owned by the State of North Carolina, is becoming a public historic site.

For now, you can walk the trails, see the gardens, Albemarle Sound, and the outside of the manor home. When I visited in the spring of 2024, we got to see some of the interior, but it was not yet open to the public.

Inner Banks North Carolina's main house at Hayes Farm, which might open to the public in the future.
The interior of the main house at Hayes Farm, which might open to the public in the future. Photo credit: Judy Antell.

There are also many original structures on the property, including cottages where enslaved people lived and worked.

Visit Inner Bans North Carolina to see cherry trees in their full bloom instead of traveling all the way to Washington,DC.
No need to go to Washington, DC to see cherry trees – they were in full bloom in North Carolina. Photo credit: Judy Antell..

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Edenton Cotton Mill Museum of History

Cotton was an important product in Edenton, and the Edenton Cotton Mill, now condos, allowed money to stay in the local economy.

Walk around Mill Village where the workers lived; families are moving in and renovating the small houses. The Cotton Mill Museum, open on Saturdays, is in the old Cotton Mill Office building. Artifacts include a package of the last yarn produced by the Mill, in the 1900s, when the textile industry moved from eastern North Carolina‌.

Homemade biscuits at Cotton Gin Culinary in Inner Banks North Carolina.
Homemade biscuits at Cotton Gin Culinary. Photo credit: Judy Antell

Cotton Gin Culinary

Cotton also lives on, in name only, at Cotton Gin Inn Culinary. This food pop-up, in the back of a gift shop, A Still Life, offers cooking classes and dinners on select nights. We got to experience a special 3-course lunch and I could see planning a trip to Edenton just to eat here again.

Edenton Bay Trading Company

We joined trivia night at Edenton Bay Trading Company. The store sells wine and beer to go, or to enjoy indoors or out. We sat in the courtyard with a lively crowd, drinking wine and testing our knowledge (or lack thereof).

A neatly spread and detailed room at the Little Washington in Inner Banks North Carolina.
A wonderful bed & breakfast in Washington. Photo credit: Judy Antell.

Washington, NC

Washington, aka Little Washington, is in Beaufort County, North Carolina. This historic city is ideal for a romantic getaway, at the fabulous Elmwood 1820 Bed & Breakfast.

After a gourmet breakfast served in fine china, you can hike nearby, rent kayaks or bicycles, or wander the downtown. The North Carolina Estuarium has free boat trips on the Pamlico River.

While in the Inner Banks North Carolina, kayak at the Pamlico River which leads to the Neuse River.
The Pamlico River leads to the Neuse River and is popular for kayaking. Photo credit: Judy Antell.

Pamlico River Waterfront

Washington has a park and boardwalk on the waterfront. Sit in an Adirondack chair and enjoy the view, or bring a book and relax. If you are staying at the Elmwood Bed & Breakfast, you can also sit on the porch and read.

The Underground Railroad Museum in Inner Banks North Carolina.
The Underground Railroad Museum. Photo credit: Judy Antell.

Underground Railroad Museum

I remember as a kid learning that the underground ‘railroad’ wasn’t actually a train, it was a network of people transporting slaves to freedom. So schoolchildren might be confused as to why the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum is located in a railroad caboose.

But anyone visiting should go to this museum, a National Park Service “Underground Railroad Network to Freedom” site, which brings the stories of enslaved people seeking freedom in Beaufort County to life.

Scenes of a new hotel rising in the midst of historic buildings downtown Inner Banks North Carolina.
Historic buildings in downtown Greenville, with a new hotel rising in the background. Photo credit: Judy Antell.

Greenville North Carolina, not South Carolina

Every time I told someone in New York I was going to Greenville, they replied “South Carolina.” But there is also Greenville in NC.

The small city of Greenville, is only about an hour from Raleigh, the capital of North Carolina, but it has an adorable small town feel. It also has a huge influx of college students who attend East Carolina University.

On a warm night in Inner Banks North Carolina, you can be outside Pitt Street Brewing listening to the live music.
On a warm night, you can be outside Pitt Street Brewing listening to the live music. Photo credit: Judy Antell.

​​First Friday Art Walk

Greenville has a monthly First Friday celebration, with live music, open galleries and lots of food for sale. There is a free trolley that takes you around downtown.

Pitt Street Brewing Company, which also has a Washington location, has food trucks on Friday and Saturday nights. On other nights, there is live music, comedy, and trivia. There are several tasty IPAs, along with other beer types, most only $6 a pint.

Grab some drinks at the beautiful bar at Cush in Inner Banks North Carolina.
The beautiful bar at Cush (pre-opening time). Photo credit: Judy Antell

Crush

This distillery and cocktail bar started when the owner of SUP Dogs (see below) realized he was the No. 1 vodka buyer in North Carolina. Vodka is used in the signature orange Crush SUP, which also includes freshly squeezed orange juice and Sierra Mist. The vodka is made with clean, organic flavors, including orange and grapefruit. And the bar features creative craft cocktails.

Buy some local nuts at Farmers and Makers Market when you visit Inner Banks North Carolina
Local nuts at Farmers and Makers Market. Photo credit: Judy Antell.

Farmers And Makers Market

The indoor Farmers and Makers Market specializes in items made, grown, or designed in Eastern North Carolina. You can get barbecue sauce to bring home, locally roasted coffee beans and gourmet chocolate. I bought “Virginia” peanuts grown in the state.

Where to Eat in the Inner Banks Region

The Herringbone On The Waterfront

In Edenton, The Herringbone On The Waterfront turned a 19th-century icehouse into a wonderful place to eat and look out on the water. The interior preserved historic elements from when Edenton was known for the herring pulled from the Albemarle Sound‌. Herringbone serves modern American cuisine, with wedge salad, wood-fired pizzas and seafood (no herring though).

Visit The Hankey for their delicious food in Inner Banks North Carolina.
The food is almost too pretty to eat at The Hackney (but eat it anyway). Photo credit: Judy Antell.

The Hackney

In Washington, The Hackney is a James Beard-nominated destination restaurant with its own gin distillery. Some of the entrees included tomato risotto, pork chop with morels and oysters and shrimp and grits.

Enjoy a peanut butter pie at Native Fine Diner in Inner Banks North Carolina.
Peanut butter pie at Native Fine Diner. Photo credit: Judy Antell.

Native Fine Diner

Native in Greenville, updates a classic diner with Southern food, fresh produce and great cocktails. The diner is in a 1903 restaurant space.

Before traveling to Inner Banks North Carolina, leave your diet home for the junks at SUP Dogs.
Fried pickles, nachos and tater tots at SUP Dogs. Leave your diet at home. Photo credit: Judy Antell.

SUP Dogs

In Greenville, SUP Dogs has hot dogs, hamburgers, salads and fries made of pickles or green beans (or potatoes). The Orange Crush SUP cocktail originated here.

Wash down the platters of meat you will have for breakfast at B's Barbecue in Inner Banks North Carolina.
B’s Barbecue, where people get platters of meat for breakfast, washed down by soda (no coffee). Photo credit: Judy Antell.

Breakfast at B’s Barbecue

The line starts at B’s Barbecue before 9 am when the take-out window opens. The no-frills place (no phone, no bathroom and no vegetarian option) is for carnivores and keto enthusiasts – breakfast is a big platter of meat.

You can sit at a picnic table or tailgate in your truck. North America has many styles of barbecue. This is the traditional NC style of pork cooked overnight, with a vinegar sauce.

Enjoy fresh local produce in a salad at King’s Deli in Inner Banks North Carolina.
Fresh local produce in a salad at King’s Deli. Photo credit: Judy Antell.

King’s Deli

I had lunch at King’s Deli, the casual offshoot of Starlight Café and Farm. I had a delicious and healthy salad at this lunch only place, which uses produce from its own farm, and local cheese and meat. I am eager to return to Greenville to  eat at the fancier Starlight.

Other Inner Banks Towns

If you have more time to explore the Inner Banks region, check out Elizabeth City, Swansboro, Hertford and New Bern.

Judy Antell Avatar
Judy Antell is an empty-nester mother of 3 who spends a lot of time visiting her daughters. Why don’t they live in Brooklyn? Judy and her husband love to travel, by bike, car, or plane, whether to see their kids or have friend or couple adventures, mostly centered around vegetarian food.
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